ROBERT GILLESPIE – The Crossword Mystery. Raven House, paperback original, 1980.

   As I understand it, the first four Raven House titles (this is #3) were sent out as advance samples to at least some, if not all, of the subscribers to Harlequin’s line of romance titles. I don’t know if the story is true, but if it is, I wonder what those women thought of this book. As the title indicates, it’s purely a puzzle story, but the language used is often surprisingly crude and foul — of the four letter variety.

   There’s also one pretty good sex scene, and one fairly brutal, which is not so good. This does not count the murder of Mary Cross, Rocky Caputo’s predecessor as the crossword editor of the New York Herald-Courier. Means of death: starvation in a locked room, complicated by cirrhosis of the liver.

   The puzzle itself — a message in cryptograms, only later as a crossword — is major league, but as we all know, cleverness alone does not a novel make. Gillespie shows promise, but he needs more seasoning. Overall, I’d say Triple A ball in the minors, at best, and if you can’t stand crossword puzzles at all, you can probably skip this one.

Rating:   C

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1981 (slightly revised).

[UPDATE] 12-26-14.   This appears to have been Rocky Caputo’s only recorded brush with murder. It was the author’s first book. Hubin records seven additional titles to his credit, five of them with a series character named Ralph Simmons, a retired advertising director of the same newspaper that Caputo worked for.

   It would have been clear — or at least clearer — to readers of this review back in 1981 that Raven House was an attempt by Harlequin Books to create a line of paperback mysteries. The imprint didn’t last long, and sometime I’d like to take a longer look into what kinds of mysteries they published and some of the highlights of the series. There is not room in this small footnote to do so now, however. For now, it may suffice to give you this link to this New York Times article that appeared soon after Raven House began.